26 April 2011

Fancy a day trip out of London?

As we gear up for a big week in London celebrating the Royal Wedding, here's a day out of London to contrast with the crowds and the mad build up but still with a royal theme. At Hatfield House you can indulge your love of history, gardens and the fine sculptures of Henry Moore.

Just 20 minutes by train from Kings Cross, Hatfield House is directly opposite the train station. A short walk takes you to the house, or rather 2 houses. One is Elizabethan and the other is Jacobean, built in 1611 and the celebration of its 400 years was the reason for this visit, kindly hosted by folk at Hatfield House. The Elizabethan house was the childhood home of Princess Elizabeth and it was in these grounds that she learned of her accession to the throne and she subsequently held her first Council of State in the Great Hall. The first photos show the exterior, its formal gardens and the Great Hall.

The Jacobean House is much larger and was built using materials from the demolished wings of the old palace. It is very grand and worth spending some time exploring and also interesting as the family use it for part of the year. This family is the Salisbury's who have owned the house since it was built. It too has a grand hall, fine armour and other collections including Elizabeth's gloves and stockings! The kitchen bears testimony to the English love of tea with all the kettles lined up and the gardens are both formal and more wild with wonderful blossom at this time of year, a haven of peace and beauty.

As part of its 400 year celebrations, Hatfield House is holding an exhibition of an amazing collection of Henry Moore sculptures, many from the nearby Henry Moore Foundation at Perry Green. We were very lucky to have a talk from the current Marquess of Salisbury and Sir Anthony Caro, a pupil of Henry Moore, to give us fascinating background to this event. The sculptures are displayed around a large area of garden and you can see one in the distance as you enjoy each piece, which pulls you through the collection, anticipating the next piece. The grounds and the sculptures complement each other wonderfully and I hope these photos give you a taster of this treat.

Next week's blog will be back in London for all the wedding fever!

Bye for now,


18 April 2011

The amazing London marathon and some star spotting!

The big event in London this week was really big - the London Marathon! But keep reading to the bottom to find out the star spotting....

The London Marathon claims to be the largest in the world with about 36,000 runners pounding the streets of London to conquer the 26.2 miles of agony. The elite man runner got round in just over 2 hours beating the course record but for the mere mortals it was 4 hours plus of pain and ecstasy on finishing. I found a great viewing spot on a bridge over the course to cheer them on and snap some of the fun sights. How people can run wearing the mad outfits is quite beyond me but it raises extra money for charity and that's what drives most of the brave runners on. You could see the pain on their faces but many were cheery and smiling as they had one more mile to go to the finish outside of Buckingham Palace. Have a look at a small selection of photos: the runners flooding along the Embankment by Charing Cross; the rhino and lion; a tiger; Kate Middleton (!); a WaterAid toilet; pantomime dame (lots of men in dresses - any excuse!); the clown; the runaway bride; the chicken; and, the man with artificial legs who was an hour ahead of anyone else in these photos!

The Tate Modern has been showing the wonderful Sunflower Seeds installation by the artist Ai Weiwei but last week he was detained in his homeland by the Chinese authorities so I started the Twitter hashtag #releaseAiWeiwei and was really pleased to see that the Tate have taken it up on their building - or we just came up with the same slogan! Either way I hope it works..

One show worth seeing was E.O. Hoppe's photographs at the National Portrait Gallery which was really interesting. From his studio portraits of the famous faces of his day to his realistic street photos of the poorer citizens, we saw a wonderful range of work in the 150 photos on display. The photo of the very small boy in a pearlie king outfit over his stripey jumper and worn out shoes was funny and very sad at the same time as his poverty was clear to see. In contrast celebrity and royal faces also graced the walls from a very young Margot Fonteyn to the future King George V and Queen Elizabeth

And finally, the star spotting which took place in the green room at recording of the Graham Norton TV show where I got to have my photo taken with one of my absolute favourites- David Tennant - and the rather lovely Josh Grobin who moved right up the favourite list. They were both completely charming and very handsome. Still recovering....

11 April 2011

Cocktails and sunshine!

Last week it felt like summer even tho' it was only spring and it seemed like there was so much going on it was hard to decide where to turn first! Highlights were: the launch of a new cocktail ; a jazz show; 2 new restaurants; and, the beauty of spring!

Firstly the launch of Good Godfrey's at the Waldorf Hotel. I was invited to this but as ever the comments are completely unbiased! The Waldorf Hotel (now part of the Hilton Group) is on Aldwych and is steeped in history, being over 100 years old and is well known for its opulent Palm Court, tea dances and having lots of style. The cocktail bar's name comes from Howard Godfrey who was the house band leader in the 1920s and a household name at the time. The decor aims to evoke the 'opulent and theatrical' past of the hotel and does that rather well. The cocktails and the champagne were wonderful and their mixologists can delight any requests so this bar is well worth knowing about for pre/post theatre or a longer stay!

We've had the most wonderful week of spring weather in London as the trees erupted into a blaze of pink blossom. Good humour always accompanies good weather and these photos give you a glimpse of the beauty and the fun - look closely at the window box where you can see a mini Easter Island Moai head with sunglasses on! The trees are in Notting Hill where I live, which is one of the prettiest areas of London. I had visitors over from America who now believe London is like this all the time as I didn't have the heart to tell them otherwise....

Regular readers will know I love to try new restaurants and there are 2 to report on this week. Galvin La Chapelle is in Spitalfields, which hosts a very fine market, especially on Sundays. The restaurant is set in a spectacular 19th century listed building, which was formerly a chapel so has a wonderful open feel with massive roof space. The food is top notch French so not cheap and we lingered happily for our Sunday lunch which was rather special. Photos show the exterior and interior of this fine building. The second restaurant worth a mention this week is Dishoom which recreates the feel and menu of the Mumbai cafe although I'm sure both are somewhat more luxurious than the originals. These cafes are dying out in their home land but given the Brits' love of Indian food we'll have a good try at keeping them going here! We had a selection of sharing plates, many of which were new to us but they were tasty and zingy. It's a no booking, turn up and reasonably fast turnaround so as long as you go outside peak hours it's a great place to drop into on the way to theatre or cinema as it's right by the West End.

One more event to squeeze in was our visit to Ronnie Scott's, the Soho landmark jazz club where the evening show starred Georgie Fame and his current Blue Flames (his band has seen many changes of membership during his long career). Georgie is a real pro and gave us a lively, varied and polished show ably supported by my favourite trumpeter Guy Barker. Polly Gibbons deserves a mention as a great bluesy jazz singer who was new to me and a wonderful find so watch out for her!

Bye for now,


4 April 2011

The Imperial War Museum: one of London's great museums

This is another entry in the occasional single item blogs from LondonLivingSue aboutLondon's major sights. This week we are visiting the Imperial War Museum but don't be put off by the title as I have been for a while as it sounds like it'll just be for war buffs. When you get there you found it's a great place and really reaches out in its exhibits to appeal to a very broad range of visitors. Arriving at the museum you cannot miss the impressive building and its immediately military approach as the 2 huge guns in the photo face you! As you enter you come into an enormous hall full of planes, guns, buses, tanks and a good cafe! They have some amazing items from history which blow you away (perhaps not the best choice of phrase!) There is the motorbike which Lawrence of Arabia was driving when he had his fatal accident, which looks brand new! There is a genuine Enigma machine which was so vital in the work at Bletchley Park decoding German messages. The Germans thought the enigma codes were unbreakable so used them for important secret mesages and being able to read them is believed to have shortened the Second World War considerably.

There are a couple of 'experiences' sections: one for the First World War trenches; and, one for the London Blitz. The trench experience is a dark section where you walk through trenches towering above you with spooky sound effects and a few bodies which was really quite scary, giving an excellent impression of the claustrophobia of the tunnels and the awful moment of having to 'go over the top'. The Blitz experience is rather different as they run on a schedule and once your slot arrives, you gather in a small dark room with fellow 'blitzers' and realise you are in an air raid shelter. Then the raid starts and the room shakes and the loud and ominous sound of bombs falling really makes you jump - just imagine that for 57 nights in a row which is what happened in London in 1940! After the all clear sounds you walk out through another dark section which aims to give an idea of what it would be like to emerge from an air raid shelter into a badly damaged London. Both 'experiences' are well worth doing but worth asking about suitability for younger children.

What else? Lots of planes and guns and you can even walk through the cockpit of an old bomber. Loved seeing the elegant Spitfire and the much older bi-plane.

There are a couple of very sobering sections: one being the Holocaust Exhibition and the other the Crimes Against Humanity. The Holocaust Exhibition traces the rise of Nazism and the growing anti-semitism through to its horrific conculsion in the death camps, using a range of photos, testimony, maps and individual stories. The Crimes Against Humanity shows us some more horrors with a series of films and a timeline of endless crimes. Terrifying, sad and very important stuff. This photo shows one of the propoganda moves that were part of the Nazi war machine.

And last but not least and on a much lighter note - the shop! It's brilliant and is full of history and books and biographies, cards, toys, information, silly presents and things that bring home the wartime privations as with this tin of tea. The contents of this very small tin are the weekly tea ration in the UK during the Second World War and it's not much at all, cuppas must have been very weak!

I'm sure I've missed loads out so why not go for yourself and make sure you allow plenty of time...

Bye for now,